The other guy, the guy you don't see in the video, the one Riley Cooper was yelling at, he was at work. That's what he was doing: Working.
The guy got dressed on a June afternoon and headed to work as a security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert, a black man in a crowd almost exclusively white. He took the job anyway. Maybe race isn't important to him. Maybe the pay is decent. Maybe it's all he can get. Maybe it's usually a good gig. Whatever, he was just doing what he was hired to do: Be a security guard. It's a thankless, difficult job trying to patrol a small corner of a huge and often drunk crowd at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Riley Cooper works in that building also, as a receiver for the Eagles. (Cooper has since taken an excused absence from the team to seek counseling.) It's a much more glamorous profession. That night, however, he was just one of the drunks and he was mad about something. Deadspin.com says he wasn't being allowed back stage. At this point, we've heard nothing to say he was goaded into his actions.
Whatever the motivation, Cooper threatened a guy at work.
"I will jump that fence and fight every [racial slur] here," he spit out, the tone as ugly as the words.
"This is the lowest of lows," Cooper said Wednesday after video of the incident came out on the website CrossingBroad.com. "This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn't the type of person I am. I'm extremely sorry."
There really shouldn't be a doubt in anyone's mind that if Cooper could take the moment back he'd do it in a heartbeat. I don't think anyone can deny his regret.
The Eagles condemned him and fined him. Cooper stood in the locker room Wednesday and apologized to his diverse set of teammates. Michael Vick, among others, showed both appropriate disgust and then grace and forgave him. Cooper is paying for this. His name is mud. He says his parents are disgusted with him. Nothing will ever be the same.
The whole thing is awful and disgraceful and this isn't meant to pile on. Cooper is doing what he can at this point. He's clearly trying. He's human. Except there's one more thing he should do.
Find the guy who simply went to work that day.
There's plenty of worthwhile talk here about fallible humans and mistakes, and even the influence of certain types of music and how the slur that Cooper snarled has been overused in all corners. There are important lessons in forgiveness too.
That's going too easy on Riley Cooper, though. This wasn't just saying a bad word in private or even shouting it out and having it drift off into the air. This wasn't a bad joke or a slip of the tongue or something influenced by a Jay Z song.
No, Cooper said it to someone. He said it to a black guy. And he said it for a reason. He was also threatening to jump a fence and beat the dude up. He said it to a guy who was doing his job. This would be a bad situation even without the slur. With it though, it's inexcusable.
Can you imagine being the other guy? A drunk, presumably bigger NFL player is first threatening to attack you and then he denigrates you, mocks you based on skin color, right in front of everyone. The rest of the crowd was mostly (or perhaps even all) white. Can you imagine the humiliation that guy felt? Can you imagine the embarrassment of trying to carry on after Cooper left? Could he even look anyone else – coworker or patron – in the eye? Did he go home depressed, dispirited or simply enraged?
The N-word is used too often, so often it sometimes minimizes its definition. But this one was clear. Cooper used the word precisely how it was meant, as a term of hate and intimidation. It was designed to tear the guy down. The intention was obvious. This wasn't the case of confused usage standards or shifting definitions.
Michael Vick says he doesn't think Riley Cooper is a racist, and I'll trust Michael Vick on that. Riley Cooper is a punk though because that was one punk move; nothing manly about it.
This isn't, on at least one level, even about race. It's about dignity. It's about respecting others, especially when they are just trying to do their job. Yes, race is an easy way to divide us, but there is also a commonality here, a shared experience. This could've been a sexist slur or a homophobic slur or a religious slur too. Diversity should be a strength for our country. We should celebrate and protect it.
We all go to work. All races. All genders. We all do what we have to do to try to make a paycheck, go home and help out our families. And no one, absolutely no one, deserves to be treated like that, especially when they are just doing their job, just trying to keep the peace at some country music concert. This is a labor issue too, and everyone who works can put themselves (at least a little) in the shoes of that security guard. Forget skin color, forget sex or race or religion. You, and I, have a lot more in common with that security guard than some NFL player.
Everyone wants to know what Cooper's teammates think and that's fine. Their rage or forgiveness is their own. It's up to them.
They weren't the ones who got debased, left powerless and humbled though.
So before Riley Cooper closes the book on this, there is one apology that is most important. He needs to go find that guy. He needs to go find that security guard. He needs to go to his home, presumably somewhere in or around Philly, knock on the door, sit down at his kitchen table and apologize, face-to-face, man-to-man. He needs to do without the media around (perhaps he already has).
And then if the guy has a wife, or kids, or parents, Riley Cooper needs to do the same to them.
Because this guy, someone's dad or husband or brother or son just went to work one afternoon and got threatened and torn down in the most degrading way imaginable, in front of everyone, and no one should ever go through that.
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